A fisherman at Conrad on the shore of Windy Arm practices the art of waiting for fish to pass by. Andrew Cremata

Just passing by


There is nothing more disheartening than plugging away at a hopeless situation. Nowhere is this truer than on a shoreline of a big lake. Sometimes, even before tying a lure to the line, there is a feeling you get in your gut that says the obvious – “the fish aren’t here.”

As with most gut feelings it’s easy to ignore. After all, you’ve come all this way to catch fish and sometimes even the most instinctive of gut-feelings can be wrong. So you cast, and you cast again. You change lures and persevere.

Some call it “fishing blind.”

A far better fishing method is called sight-casting. And as the name implies, you simply scan the water and look for fish. When one is spotted you cast toward it, catch it, then take it home and eat it. Pretty simple.

But when the fish aren’t visible all you really have are your instincts, for better or worse. On any lake there is a lot of shoreline, and even more water, most of which is simply not accessible on foot. So you keep casting. It doesn’t take too long before that gut feeling finds its way to the brain stem, where instinct becomes fact, and all you’re left with is another lost cause.

I’ve been in this situation more often than I’d like to admit, and as a fisherman I am not very good at admitting anything. When I’m faced with the thought of being skunked I usually find enough hope reserved in the tank to tell myself I’m giving it three more casts. I always say three, but it often ends up being multiplied by three until it ends up being 12 or even 18 more casts. This is actually less endurance, and more obsession. I do have a secret, however…

Sometimes, a fish might just be passing by.

When I was in my early teens I went on an all night fishing trip with my dad and grandfather. We were fishing in Tampa Bay on a seawall that overlooked a small inlet, not unlike a massive Yukon lake. The lights of the city flickered though the thickness of the humid night air. We were lit by the stark white bulbs of a Coleman lantern, but the blackness of the water into which we cast defined fishing blind.

It was a slow night, and with the morning sun only a couple of hours away we had only a few small trout on the stringer. As was usually the case, my grandfather had been responsible for all of the catching.

We all decided it was time to head home, but Cremata family tradition dictated that we all make one more cast (he rule of three had not yet been invented). My grandfather was already starting a little good-natured gloating at the less lucky angler’s expense when I felt a small tap on my line. Then another.

I waited patiently for a harder pull and when it came I set the hook. Expecting a small trout, I was unprepared for the sudden sharp bend in the rod and line peeling from the drag in sharp bursts. My dad ran for the net, which had already been put away, and when the fish was close my grandfather held the lantern over the seawall so my dad could get the net around it.

Even in that uneven light there was no mistaking the golden hued flanks and telltale round black spot of a lunker redfish. And redfish are to the Cremata family what sockeye are to the Alaskan salmon connoisseur. Only bigger.
I can’t remember if we stayed a while longer or if it was truly the last cast, but what I do remember is the drive back home. I was sitting in between my dad and grandfather, and I was doing my duty to ensure that everyone knew I caught the biggest fish of the trip.

I remember one clever taunt directed at my grandpa, “My fish is bigger than all of your fish combined!”

My grandfather smiled with each new jibe. Then he looked at me with a big grin, and while nodding his head said, “That fish was just passing by. Just passing by.”

It was good I got some quality taunting in because I would never out-fish my grandfather again, and it wasn’t for lack of trying. This fact is a testament to keeping your mouth shut when faced with a superior force.

The last time I fished with my grandfather was on a party boat out of Tarpon Springs, Florida. We plied the depths for grouper, and met with unbridled success throughout the day. When it was all over, my grandfather had caught the largest of all the 70-plus anglers on the boat. My dad caught the second largest, and you can guess who caught the third.

After that trip we had plenty of fish, and the whole extended family gathered together for a fish fry of epic proportions. My aunts played their old records and danced polkas and the Charleston, while the kids played rummy on the dining room table. There was good food and plenty of laughter. And of course, there were stories of fish – none of which had gotten away.

Sometimes, while casting blind into these icy lakes of the north, my mind drifts back to those days when the family was whole and every weekend offered a fishing trip with nothing more promised than a sunburn and fish on the table.

Within those lost thoughts, three more casts turns into 21, or maybe even 35, but there’s always hope that something might just be passing by. The same could be said for a lot of things.

Since those days of my childhood, I’ve done my fair share of casting blind, but on those occasions where it pays off, it’s good to know you’re on the right track. There’s something special about catching fish that just happen to be passing by. It’s an unexpected and beautiful thing, a testament to the fulfillment that comes with trial and error, and it resonates within a place you seldom realize exists.